The result came in May 1994, when IBM abruptly fired its roster of close to 80 agencies globally and consolidated its $500 million account at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, the biggest account shift in ad industry history.
But changing direction on advertising is only the most visible of radical moves to resurrect the brand made by Ms. Kohnstamm since she left her post as senior VP-cardmember marketing at American Express two years ago to rejoin her old AmEx boss, IBM Chairman-CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr.
Ms. Kohnstamm, IBM's VP-corporate marketing, has unified the look of packaging and brochures at the company.
She also has pulled together IBM divisions' scattered booths at trade shows to present one image to the world. Under her direction, IBM has consolidated its sports marketing budget on a few big events, such as the Olympics, where it can showcase technology.
Many of the changes are work in progress. "We're not there yet," says Ms. Kohnstamm, 41.
Her goal is to create a unified image for the IBM brand with both rational and emotional messages. On the rational side, she wants IBM known as a technology innovator with the experience to integrate computer systems for businesses of all sizes. On the emotional side, she wants IBM seen as accessible and responsive.
"People....[are] a little intimidated by the size and scope and the institutional aspect of the company," she says.
"The more people can relate to us in a more intimate way, the better they feel about the brand."
Partly thanks to the cohesiveness brought by Ms. Kohnstamm, IBM roared back into profitability last year for the first time since 1990.